SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson decided to come back for his senior year for a variety of reasons: to finish school, tutor younger players, win another conference title and take his team back to a BCS bowl game.
But the other thing that kept nagging at him in the offseason and as he charted the pros and cons of leaving early for the NFL was the way the 2008 season ended -- with a 17-16 loss to TCU in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.
That was Wilson's second consecutive bowl loss and a game he spent hours watching this offseason, pinpointing little things he could have done to change the outcome.
"Since I came back, since last winter when we started working out again, it's been in my head," he said of the TCU loss. "You know, that feeling of coming up short. It's something I haven't forgot, and hopefully I won't have that feeling again."
Since that game, Wilson and Boise State are 13-0 and have worked their way back into a BCS bowl game. Wilson could have never imagined that a date in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl would present an opportunity to right last year's wrongs against the Horned Frogs.
But up until this point, his return was about leaving Boise State in as good a place as the one he found in 2006. Wilson was a redshirt freshman that season, when Boise State defeated Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. He had 10 tackles in the game and absorbed everything it took to get there. The hard work, the dedication and making the team more important than one player; all values Wilson tried to convey to younger players.
"When I first came here, he helped me more in my position than a couple other guys who had played my position," said safety Winston Venable, who transferred from Glendale Community College in Glendale, Ariz., and quickly earned a starting role. "That's just the type of guy he is. He wants to help the younger guys out. And you look at him and think 'What qualities can I take from him and put into my own game?'
"He's probably not playing his last football game on Monday, so you look at a guy like that. If you have aspirations to play in the NFL, you want to see what type of guy that is. He's that type of guy you kind of want to mimic and do some things that he does. Or try to do more than he does. Him being here just helps other people get better."
Wilson was lightly recruited out of high school. He had four offers: Boise State, Rutgers, Delaware and Richmond. Being from Piscataway, N.J., Rutgers seemed like the perfect fit, but there was something about his trip to Boise that made him want to move west.
"Rutgers came to a playoff game my senior year and I just didn't feel a strong interest from them," Wilson said. "It was just so late that I didn't think I was such a priority for them. I didn't feel like I was good enough to play for them, pretty much, and they just came late just to save face. Boise State was kind of a gut feeling."
Since joining the Broncos, Wilson has become one of the most decorated players in the school's history. He's been an All-WAC first-teamer the past two seasons and was an All-American this year. He's been a prolific performer both on defense and special teams and has led Boise State to multiple wins with big plays. He's a shutdown corner that star receivers look forward to facing because they consider him one of the best. Earlier this year, Bowling Green's Freddie Barnes, one of the nation's best receivers, managed just four catches for 24 yards.
"He's a fast guy; he's a physical kid," Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "He's not the biggest guy. The intangible thing to me is that he's just competitive, and he's been that way since he was a freshman."
Wilson said when he looks back on his career at Boise State it will be the relationships and the mentoring he'll remember most. The wins and losses kind of blend together, but the relationships will always be a constant for him.
Still, he couldn't have picked a more fitting way to finally end his career as a Bronco.
"I don't regret my decision to stay at all," Wilson said. "I just graduated last week, and football's going pretty good. I don't have any regrets about anything. I've done everything I've wanted to. Since I got here, I exceeded far more goals than I set when I got here. It's been a great experience, and I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out."
Graham Watson covers non-BCS college football for ESPN.com.